Regional universities could cut humanities programs entirely, forcing students to travel to the city for arts degrees, a leading social sciences academic has warned.
Professor Joy Damousi, who is professor of history and the director of the Institute for Humanities and Social Sciences at the Australian Catholic University, said humanities courses had already been downsized in reaction to government policies and the financial fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"If you go to rural and regional areas, that's where you see not only dropping enrollments, but also restructures and even the cutting of humanities courses," Professor Damousi said.
She said the change in course fees for humanities courses under the government's job-ready graduates package would have a larger impact on the decisions of poorer, regional students compared to wealthier students in city universities.
From the beginning of this year the annual cost of a humanities degree went from $6804 to $14,500.
"If you go down that socio-economic ladder, that's where you start to see students making choices on financial grounds," Professor Damousi said.
"That's not what an education system should be doing, it shouldn't be determining students choices by their ability to pay."
A recent paper from Australian National University economists Professor Bruce Chapman and Dr Gaurav Khemka concluded that the fee changes were less radical than they seemed.
They found the impact on graduates' weekly disposable income would be very small, in the majority of cases less than $5 a week.
However, Professor Damousi said humanities courses were an easy target for cash-strapped regional universities, leaving students with less choice if they want to stay in the regions.
"Universities will drift to where the incentives are and there are no incentives to promote or teach or research in humanities," she said.